The word that Jesus prays in John 17:20-23 is a very joy-filled, optimistic message about what the church could be like as we come together in unity. Let's take a look at part of the message in John 17:
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:20-23
The topic of this month's post is not going to be much fun. I'll warn you in advance; if you prefer not to take a deep, hard look at some realities in our North American Christian culture, either delete this or save it for another day. I also want to emphasize that this post is not intended to bash anyone or any institution. My hope is to simply look deep into the heart of the church, of which I am a part.
The scripture quoted above is from Jesus' prayer immediately preceding his arrest, trial and crucifixion. He knew what was to happen next, so I have to believe that in this prayer we get to hear the passion and depth of Jesus' heart. It was time to sum up his ministry and desires for his followers after spending 33 years here on earth.
The prayer starts with a simple request that Jesus now be restored to what was since the beginning of time — that he once again be glorified with his Father. "And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began." He then prays for those who have followed him while he was on this earth, those we now call "the disciples." Then Jesus prays "not for them alone" but "also for those who will believe in me through their message."
It still blows me away to this day that Jesus, while he was in the flesh over 2000 years ago, prayed for me. And for you! We ARE "those who will believe in me through their message." What does he pray for you, for me, and for everyone who has believed through the writings of those disciples? He prays that "all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you."
It's at this point that I have to stop and take a deep breath. Then, with as much self honesty as I can muster, I have to ask myself this question: how am I individually, and, how are we, corporately, doing at "being one?" I'm ashamed to say that the answer is so obvious that we need not even say it aloud. In fact, I'm pretty sure that not only are we not "one," we may not even be three or five or twenty or a thousand. I'm not sure I know what that means, but I say it to make this point: we are deeply missing the mark on this one.
Jesus goes on to say, "so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."Complete unity? Have we been "brought to complete unity?" I'm not sure where we're at, why we're there, or how we got here but I'm fairly sure that no one would describe us, the "church," as being in complete unity.
And the price for not being there? Look at the next line. As a result of our missing the mark, the world — and more specifically, our next door neighbor — does not know that Jesus was sent by the Father and that the Father loves them. That seems to be a very high price for others to pay for our desire to live out our individualistic, self-driven, locked in our own home, "personal" form of Christianity. It doesn't seem very biblical and it certainly is not seeing us reach the world.
I'm afraid that in this case the culture has far outstripped the church in its influence on our lives. We "go" to work, we"go" to our meetings, we "go" home, and then we "go" to church. When we're not happy, we change our place of work and we change our "church" until the next time we're unhappy and we change again. Then we read the most recent hot Christian book on sale at the Christian bookstore or listen to some new podcast of the new hot preacher and we try to change again. So it goes — we continue, in our Christianity, to try and keep changing things so that we might eventually be "happy." I believe it was K. P. Yohannen, in his book "Revolution in World Missions" that said "The church in America has caught a cold. It's "Ahchoo! Bless me! Ahchoo! Bless me!" And on and on we go, chasing happiness instead of pursuing God.
I believe with all my heart that everything man truly desires is wrapped up in our relationship with God. It is there and only there that we will find true love, true joy, and true peace. But we MUST come to some basic agreement, complete unity, on what that looks like and how that happens. That's never going to happen without true discipleship.
We have to stop birthing baby Christians and then setting them on their feet and telling them to "go and prosper." Babies must be raised up to become adults. Baby Christians must be raised up to become adult Christians. This responsibility is yours and mine and ours. If I'm not a part of the solution, I'm just a part of the problem.
As always, would love to hear your thoughts. I continue to be humbled by your love and your support.